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Tuesday, January 14, 2014 articles (index)
Planning Commission unanimously disapproves massive downtown rezoning proposal

Planning Commission unanimously disapproves massive downtown rezoning proposal


Beaufort’s downtown marina area, which includes the waterfront parking lot. The City is proposing to remove the downtown parking and cover the parking lot with hotels, apartments, shops, offices, restaurants and condominiums, a direct contravention of the contractual pledges the City made when it developed the downtown waterfront park and parking lot.

Beaufort’s Metropolitan Planning Commission, composed of five members, unanimously disapproved the City’s massive downtown rezoning proposal at its monthly meeting on Monday, January 13, 2014.

Libby Anderson, the City’s staff planner, presented the City’s proposal in a series of documents projected on a screen in City Council’s chambers, which are the standard meeting place of the commission. Her presentation included three separate proposals by the City for rezoning the three blocks from protective zoning classifications including Conservation Preservation to high-density Core Commercial and Neighborhood Commercial.

The City’s proposal includes Beaufort’s downtown waterfront parking lot, which is part of Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park. It was funded by a Federal grant in the late 1970′s under contractual covenants made by the City never to convert the waterfront parking lot into a downtown commercial city block, the very proposal now being made by the City.

Anderson’s presentation made clear that the rezoning proposal for all three blocks, which include a number of properties owned by private individuals including perhaps Mayor Billy Keyserling, was coming from the City, not from the private property owners. However, several private owners were present including Marvin Dukes Jr., who stated to the Commission that he and his investment group favor the proposed Core Commercial designation for their vacant property fronting on Bay Street, the site of the former Dowling Law Office Building, which burned to the ground some years ago.

A number of community leaders followed with impassioned statements of why the City’s proposal was premature and unwise, including former Mayor David Taub, Historic Beaufort Foundation Executive Director Maxine Lutz, Beaufort County Open Land Trust Executive Director Patty Kennedy, former State Representative Edie Rodgers, and resident George Trask, who is publisher and editor of The Beaufort Tribune.

Redevelopment Commission member and marina project manager Alan Dechovitz spoke in favor of the City’s proposal. The Redevelopment Commission holds a Memorandum of Understanding with the City to develop the parking lot area in concert with a Greenville developer into high-density core commercial uses provided the City rezones the land from Conservation Preservation to Core Commercial and approves the development plans.

Dechovitz stated that the development group is not willing to spend money on plans for development in advance of the City rezoning the property to Core Commercial. The numerous community leaders who made presentations to the Planning Commission stated that this is exactly backwards from the normal and wise course of rezoning since once the rezoning occurs anything allowed by the zoning classification can be constructed on the property, much of which would destroy that which makes Beaufort a unique waterfront community.

Trask presented a copy of a Sunday, January 12 editorial from The (Charleston) Post and Courier bemoaning the conversion during the past six years of the peaceful historic waterfront community of Mount Pleasant into “The Boulevard”, a four-story complex of apartments, shops, offices and restaurants. The editorial states that Mount Pleasant’s city fathers were inspired by downtown Greenville, the same city from which Beaufort’s proposed redevelopers hail. “Trouble is, Greenville is a city. Mount Pleasant is still allegedly a ‘town’”, the editorial states, and Mount Pleasant’s city leaders are now regretting that they allowed their town to be destroyed.

Trask suggested that Beaufort’s Redevelopment Commission is headed toward destroying Beautiful Beaufort By The Sea and converting it into a Greenville, Charleston or Mount Pleasant. “If the people who are pushing us headlong into destroying our downtown waterfront want to live in a city they ought to move to Charleston or Mount Pleasant,” he said.

The fluid nature of the City’s proposal was revealed by Anderson as she frequently shifted the slide presentation to show numerous alternatives that, she suggested, should be considered by the Planning Commission for approval at the meeting. The five-member commission rejected all of the City’s proposals and voted to recommend to City Council as follows:

1. The entire block known as the downtown waterfront parking lot as well as the City’s park across the street known as Secession Park should remain as a Conservation Preservation zoning district.

2. If the owners of the various private parcels in the two blocks across the street from the City’s downtown waterfront parking lot desire rezoning, they should come back to the Planning Commission with their own applications for rezoning.

The issue now goes to City Council, which has the power to ignore the Planning Commission’s recommendations and act on its own.

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